Monday, November 1, 2010

Pressure Flaking News

Pressure flaked necklace
Last week wasn't quite as orderly as I'd hoped, I never really got into the writing in the mornings and knapping in the afternoons routine that I was hoping for, but maybe this week will run a bit smoother.  I wrapped up work on a few pieces of knapped reproduction jewelry destined for customers in Labrador, Germany and the US.  That meant a lot of time in the workshop pressure flaking.

Pushing a flake off with pressure
The reproductions gave me an opportunity to try out the antler tipped pressure flaker that I made a couple weeks ago based on the flaker found with Ötzi.  I really like it. I found that it worked as well or better than the copper pressure flakers that I usually use.  It gripped the edge better and I don't have to worry about metal scraping off and staining the stone.  I'll certainly keep using it on reproductions and will most likely make a few more versions with slightly different shaped tips, to take off narrower flakes and help finish the notches.  I learned to flintknap using copper pressure flakers and antler soft hammers, but I'm slowly learning to appreciate antler for pressure flaking.  At one time I only brought out the antler flakers for demonstrations, because it looked more authentic, but more and more frequently I'm finding that I grab my antler flakers when no one is watching because I feel that they genuinely perform better in some situations.  

Blombos Cave artifacts
Well, that's my pressure flaking news, but I don't expect it to make headlines in the Globe and Mail, like the pressure flaking news that came out of Blombos Cave, South Africa last week.  An article entitled "Early Use of Pressure Flaking on Lithic Artifacts at Blombos Cave, South Africa" was published in Science on October 29, 2010.  The brief article outlines the evidence for pressure flaking on bifacial points made on a local, heat treated stone.  More than half of the Still Bay bifacial points at the site showed signs of pressure flaking.  The thing that makes the study newsworthy is that the points date to 75,000 years ago, making it the earliest evidence for pressure flaking in the world, by 50,000 years!  Up until this publication, pressure flaking was thought to be a relatively recent discovery, made in the Upper Palaeolithic, at about the same time that people were experimenting with cave art in Europe.  It was part of a suite of activities that marked a period of big changes and innovations that helped define fully modern human beings.

Pressure flaking creates small flakes
The convincing evidence for early pressure flaking at Blombos Cave raises all sorts of questions about what happened to the technique in the 50,000 years between its discovery and its widespread adoption?  Was the knowledge lost and rediscovered independently or did it persist in low frequencies or isolated areas until the Upper Palaeolithic?  When so much of the history of our species is written in stone, understanding where and when new ideas and techniques arose can help us better understand ourselves.

Photo Credits:
1: Tim Rast
2,4: Lori White
3: Screen grab from

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